Exclusive: Cruise sector remains resilient despite recession fears

The cruise sector continues to brush off the threat of recession but fears are rising of a winter price war.

As National Cruise Week approaches, cruiselines said the sector’s older customer base and growth potential were helping it remain resilient. Most were not “overly concerned” about forward sales.

Complete Cruise Solution head of sales Mark Pilkington said: “If we look ahead at the next few months, we have to ask: credit crunch, what credit crunch?”

The Cruise Village director Phil Nuttall said booking patterns could be hit. “I think people will book later but they will still cruise,” he said.

But a 40% hike in UK cruise capacity this year has led to claims of dramatic price cuts, particularly in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.

Fred Olsen Cruise Line ­marketing director Nigel ­Lingard said sales volumes in the UK are set to be about 20% up this year, but prices are at “an all-time low” as a result of extra capacity.

Increased winter capacity in the Mediterranean, and the impact of fuel hikes and Caribbean flight programme cuts are taking their toll, he said. “Europe in winter is becoming a battlefield. The Caribbean is already price sensitive – the clear indication from airlines is they don’t want to sign fixed price contracts.”

MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International have all joined Costa Cruises in adding Mediterranean itineraries in winter.

Costa Cruises managing director Marco Rosa said: “At this stage we are not going with some of the low rates of competitors. We are waiting to see what happens later on.”

MSC Cruises director of sales Stephen Moffett added: “We are not the cheapest out there. We are pricing for the market. If the credit crunch does hit, we want more advanced sales.”

He maintained the three-star market could suffer. “Customers are getting more for their money on a four-star for the same price as a three-star cruise.”

Similarly, NCL director of sales Nick Wilkinson said: “Price-wise we are competitive but we are not out of line.”

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